Georgia the New Christian Hollywood?

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CBNNews.com - While Hollywood is the center of the movie industry, there's an East Coast phenomenon quickly becoming the 'Christian' movie capital. And it's all happening at a church in Albany, Georgia.

Facing the Giants, an inspiring story about a losing high school football team that went on to victory, made more than $10 million a couple of years ago. But that's just the Hollywood scorecard from the efforts of Sherwood Baptist Church and there's much more to this story.

So, how did this church, in small town Albany, Georgia, three hours away from a major airport and more than 2,000 miles away from Hollywood, make not only one but two major motion pictures?

Hollywood Scratching its Head

The answer, according to Sherwood member and movie director Alex Kendrick, has Hollywood scratching its head.

"After opening weekend I got a phone call from the Hollywood Reporter where a guy, and I'm going to replace some of his language, but he said 'Who in the world are you guys and how in the world did you get to number four when I never saw you coming?,'" said Kendrick.

Sherwood members Alex and Stephen Kendrick wrote, directed and produced both films. Alex also played the head coach in Facing the Giants. Their first movie Flywheel didn't make it to the big screen, but inspired them to keep trying.

"We are surprised in one sense that it's working so well when we're amateurs. We're a church in South, Georgia. On the other hand, we're not surprised at God doing something incredible because He's God," said Alex Kendrick.

But how does it happen with no big name stars, except Kirk Cameron, no unions and next to no budget? They made Giants for $100,000 and Fireproof for only $500,000.

"When you understand that our God can walk on water, can raise the dead, can heal the sick, make the blind see, when you read the Bible, then you quit making excuses and you start looking for opportunities," said Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church.

Right Pastor at Right Time

Catt simply may have been the right pastor at the right time. It turns out, Catt had heard the word "no" too many times as a youth pastor and vowed to say it as few times as possible as a church leader. So when the Kendrick brothers approached him and said, "we want to make movies," he said, "Let's do it!" And Sherwood Pictures was born.

"If it'll match what we're trying to do as a church, then I want to be the guy who says yes. I don't want to be the guy who says you can't do that, you can't do that, why do you want to do that? We don't have the money to do that," Catt said.

Fans may recall Bobby Lee Duke, the menacing, lolly-pop licking coach of the Giants, played by Sherwood Executive Pastor Jim McBride. Some may recall Duke's famous line from the movie that he barked at his players: "They're like little dogs nippin at our heels, now let's go out there and stomp 'em!" Like most of the actors in Sherwood's movies, McBride had no previous acting experience.

"I was a professional wrestler for about a year and a half and in the Marine Corps for six years. Both of those had a little flair. If you ever had a drill instructor in the Marine Corps, you know he was a lot like that football coach. I had a football coach like that and had a lot of stuff in my background that helped me but no previous acting," said McBride.

Awesome Experience For Volunteers

Sherwood member Ken Bevel who played Lt. Michael Simmons in Fireproof and the best friend to Kirk Cameron's character says the experience was both awesome and terrifying.

"The first day that I got on set I was literally terrified. I saw all these cameras and I was like, wow God! And I really royally screwed it up and I talked to Steven and he said, 'brother, we need to talk' so we talked about it and I went and prayed. I said God, you have to make me seem believable, real, so that people can connect with the character Michael and He did that and it was phenomenal how it all unfolded," said Bevel.

Sherwood Members Harris and Phyllis Malcolm had signed up to pray behind the scenes when to their surprise, they were pegged to play the parents of Cameron's character. Harris, a retired pastor had never acted but said the pulpit was good training for the role. He and his wife said seeing the movie on the big screen was quite a thrill.

"While we were filming I think it was, God don't let us mess this up. And then at the theater we were like, gosh, we hope people like it," Harris Malcolm said.

And others like professional make-up artist Curry Bushnell were able to put their skills to good use.

"What I tell people is that God took me to Hollywood for 10 years to train me up in make-up artistry so that I could come back to Albany and make movies that glorify Him," Bushnell said .

The filmmakers say they couldn't have done it without the hundreds of volunteers, (none of the actors were paid), and the generous support of the city of Albany.

City Lends a Hand

Just days before shooting began, the Albany Fire Department loaned Sherwood their brand new state-of-the-art fire trucks. They also helped them burn down a house for one of the most crucial scenes in the movie.

"We were honored to be asked to be in the movie," said Fire Chief James Carswell. "We set the stage so that it was as close to real life as possible."

Everyone involved says that prayer was the key ingredient to making these movies. Interestingly, Facing the Giants may have never made it to the big screen without divine guidance. Sherwood turned down a lucrative DVD deal because they believed God wanted them to take Giants to the theaters.

"And so we did what we've done every time we've come up against an obstacle, we came back and we prayed and we asked God for favor and for Him to open doors that we couldn't open or expect to open," said McBride.

Amazing Turn of Events

It paid off. Through an amazing turn of events, Giants was picked up by Sony Motion Pictures and opened in 441 theaters nationwide. Fireproof doubled that opening with 800 theaters.

The movies not only did well at the box office but accomplished what producers say was their main goal: to reach people for Jesus Christ. They've been flooded with emails and phone calls from people all over the world saying their lives will never be the same.

"A guy walks into the movie theater and he stands up at the end of the movie and he says if there are any Christians in here would you please pray for me my wife just filed for divorce and over 200 people in that theater rallied around that man and prayed for him," said Michael Catt. "That's a God-thing! I mean, you just don't see that happening. And that moves me, because it's not about how much money the movie makes, how many theaters it plays in. For me, it's changed lives."

Sherwood Pictures is planning to make another film under its current contract with Sony Motion Pictures. The church leadership is praying about the next theme which has not yet been decided.

Fireproof debuts Feb. 27 on DVD. Most of the money from the movie goes into advertising and marketing of the film. Sherwood leaders say they only see a fraction of the box office money which goes toward community projects such as a major sports park in Albany, Georgia.

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